The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

We’re a 170-year-old organisation but prior to 2015 we knew very little about our audiences.

- David Wright, Head of Marketing, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is the independent charity that cares for the world’s greatest Shakespeare heritage sites in Stratford-upon-Avon and promotes the enjoyment and understanding of the writer's works, life and times all over the world.

In 2015, the Trust received funding from Arts Council England’s Museum Resilience Fund to gain a greater understanding of its existing and potential markets for its current offer, and gather audience insight to help inform the development of a potential World Shakespeare Centre in Stratford-upon-Avon.

David Wright, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s Head of Marketing, describes the project and its impact on the organisation:

"The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust was formed in 1847 when Shakespeare’s Birthplace was ‘saved for the nation’ at a public auction as part of a national campaign. 

Today, around 400,000 people visit the Birthplace each year with a very large number coming as part of organised tours and high proportions from overseas.  

We now care for the world’s greatest Shakespeare heritage sites in Stratford-upon-Avon - the five homes and gardens directly linked to Shakespeare and his family, attracting over 870,000 visitors in 2017. Over one million museum, library and archive items are in our collections including 7,000 museum objects, 55,000 books and 31 of 102 surviving hand written documents that mention Shakespeare from his lifetime.

We also run a formal and informal education programme for five to 95 year olds - including our flagship outreach project, Shakespeare Week - an annual celebration of Shakespeare taking place in primary schools across the UK. 

In 2015, we commissioned a piece of research to help us to gain a greater understanding of existing and potential markets and to gather valuable audience insight to aid in the development of a potential World Shakespeare Centre in Stratford-upon-Avon – helping us use our assets and expertise to engage with our audiences in more meaningful ways. 

A common language for talking about audiences.

We were also looking to introduce a common language across the organisation when talking about audiences and develop an organisational-wide understanding of who our audiences were, their needs and desires. Historically we’d used various segmentation models in the past, but they were never really successfully adopted. During the tender process it became clear Culture Segments was the kind of segmentation we were looking for. 

Culture Segments is a tool which divides the market based on beliefs, behaviours and attitudes towards the arts, culture and heritage; importantly for us, it can be used to segment international audiences. The research identified our core Culture Segments - EssenceExpression and Enrichment. We also discovered we had a large and as yet untapped market in Stimulation, and that they would be a key audience for future engagement.

Our bespoke pen portraits really helped get buy-in across the organisation. When promoting our offer we used to ask ‘Who is it for?’ and were often told ‘Everyone!’ – which, of course, is incredibly challenging when it comes to marketing. That doesn’t happen anymore. 

Culture Segments are now fully embedded within the Trust. People talk about them. They know who they are and when we’re discussing our offer and our future we are keeping the audience at the front of our minds.

The marketing team works very closely with the programming and informal learning teams and we hold copywriting sessions for people across the Trust; but Culture Segments are now shaping discussions, Trustee down, whether or not marketing are involved.  

Culture Segments in action

We’ve used MHM’s insights to review all aspects of our organisation and critically assessed our offer against the needs of our target audience. There have been some painful goodbyes to things we had always done but had to accept weren’t meeting our audience’s needs.   


Lots of our marketing messages are now focused on the Expression market (although we’re mindful that Essence and Enrichment are core audiences too). We often use buzz words such as ‘join in’, ‘get creative’ and images are predominantly shots of people engaging with our offer.  We’ve also tested simultaneous Facebook adverts targeting different audiences.

Attracting new audiences

Knowing we had the untapped market in Stimulation has led to a dramatic change of our approach to programming.

Our showcase Christmas event was developed with Stimulation in mind and is totally different to our core offer - more cutting edge and innovative.  Last year, for example, we worked alongside dance theatre company, Motionhouse, to bring an incredibly popular contemporary dance performance to the grounds of Shakespeare’s New Place. 

In 2017 we also introduced a new After Hours programme. The idea actually came out of an MHM led workshop where we identified there was a clear gap in our offer. We now host regular events aimed at our key segments: from talks and discussions led by our Shakespeare experts, to Bhangra workshops and ale tasting sessions. The response has been phenomenal. Not only have they been very popular but around 80% of the After Hours bookers had never been to a Shakespeare Birthplace Trust venue before, and significant numbers are buying tickets to multiple events.  

Smart programming

Bringing in more people outside the summer months is a huge issue for us.

We’re using Culture Segments to develop smarter programming for November to February. This year we’re looking to run a series of talks, workshops and exhibitions around a different theme each month, for example in November it’ll be Shakespeare and women, in January, conservation and new beginnings - all with Expression in mind.

Development and fundraising

We’ve reviewed the Friends scheme, looking at the messages we use and tweaking them depending on who we are talking to. We’re also looking to review the messages on our donation boxes, being much more explicit in what the money could help us do: highlighting the impact of our educational work for example – something which particularly appeals to the Expression market.

Future plans

Discussions in the Culture Segments pipeline include developing our website and designing itineraries with the different segments needs in mind. We’re also looking at how we can overlay Culture Segments with the visitor insight we get from our benchmarking data and in future we’d love to link Culture Segments with our CRM data. 

“Hugely transformational”

Using Culture Segments has been hugely transformational for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. It’s given us the confidence to be braver, to take more risks and to challenge old thinking.  It’s helping us to change perceptions and, in doing so, to use our collections, education work and properties to the full. We’re not just about historic houses; we’re a dynamic organisation bringing Shakespeare to life in all its many forms."

Photo credits: Megan Taylor, The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust 

Jenny has a great eye for detail and enjoys being involved in a research project from start to...